Orlando’s religious community said “presente” after the 2016 Pulse tragedy that left 49 people dead in the worse mass shooting in U.S. history.
Many churches, especially pastors from Orlando’s largest Latino congregations such as El Calvario and Fuente de Agua Viva, attended and prayed at Pulse vigils, a pleasant surprise for LGBTQ Orlandoans who didn’t expect the generous gesture from the most conservative sector of the Hispanic community, one that has sometimes been at odds with the gay community.
“I’m proud to see how Latino communities of faith have come together. I was moved by words welcoming our community with open arms,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Dist. 48), Florida’s first openly gay representative, at a recent Pulse forum held by the Orlando Sentinel at Orlando Regional Medical Center that drew an audience of 100 people.
“Orlando: Un Año Después” is a unique and never-attempted before series of seven WMFE podcasts covering the one-year mark of the Pulse shooting. All the podcasts are in Spanish, a nod to the majority of the Pulse victims who were LatinX.
Thank you to WMFE’s Catherine Welch and Crystal Chávez for inviting Orlando Latino™ to participate in such an important project for the Orlando Latino community. And kudos to WMFE interns Adam Manno and Jarleene Almenas for their insightful contributions.
I want to thank Orlando Latino readers for their mostly loving reaction to the story about the dad who did not want to claim his son, a casualty of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
This post has reached nearly 20,000 people and has been shared over 200 times. I never expected it to go viral. I intended only to draw attention to the social and moral attitudes regarding LGBT people and same-sex marriage still prevalent in Spanish-speaking countries, including Puerto Rico.
But I get that the father’s rejection – even in death – struck a nerve with many of you, as it did with me. Many readers have shown an amazing sense of generosity, decency and spirit in their desire to claim or bury the victim. Thank you.
I cannot share any more details about the victim because I do not wish to divulge additional identifying details. I do not wish to cause this family any more pain. For surely you must know the family is in pain. Many of you may not agree. Let’s agree to disagree.
Please know, however, that this young man’s body was claimed, as were all the shooting victims. He had friends and other family members who loved him and celebrated his life. He is now resting in peace.
The Hispanic community paused recently to honor the victims, families and survivors of the Pulse shooting in a Spanish-language vigil at the Dr. Phillips center in Downtown Orlando.
The event was coordinated by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, which since the Pulse nightclub shooting June 12, has worked nonstop to provide services, answer questions and calm the community, alongside many other community organizers and volunteers.
The shooting was the single worst in American history. About three-quarters of the shooting victims were Latinos, the single largest group from Puerto Rico.
The stress of tending to the needs of the community, combined with the sorrow of the massacre, lined many tired faces at the Hispanic Chamber’s vigilia. Chamber officials appeared subdued and some even sobbed.
The vigil brought out survivors from the Boston marathon bombing. It showcased songs and short speeches, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, each of whom addressed the crowd in Spanish.
“So many of the victims were of Latino descent,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said to Orlando Latino. “It’s important that we recognize the multicultural nature of the event.”
It wasn’t always so, as many Hispanics earlier complained that officials and others were downplaying the ethnicity of the victims, who had gathered at Pulse that fateful evening for Latin night.
It was as if being LGBT and Latino were mutually exclusive.
“I am Hispanic and openly gay,” local entrepreneur Carlos Carbonell told the crowd. “Both of my families are mourning.”
City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, whose southeast district is heavily Hispanic, spoke of love and lives that were cut short, although his was the lone vote against same-sex marriage in the Orlando City Commission.
“Todos, todos, todos, todos somos hijos de Dios,” Ortiz said. “Todos somos seres humanos.” All of us are children of God. We are all human beings.
“Orlando United is more than a hashtag,” he added.
Indeed. First Baptist of Orlando is holding a vigil Tuesday, June 28, that will bring together followers of Orlando’s largest evangelical Hispanic churches, including Iglesia El Calvario and Fuente de Agua Viva, in an event titled ¡Amamos Orlando! (We Love Orlando) and headlined by Christian singer and pastor Marcos Witt.
Fuente de Agua Viva may livestream the event direct to Puerto Rico, where its parent church is based.
What: ¡Amamos Orlando!
When: Tuesday, June 28, at 7: 30 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: First Baptist Orlando, 3000 South John Young Parkway, Orlando
The Hispanic community is expected to gather Friday evening at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando to honor the Pulse shooting victims in a Spanish-language vigil.
About 73 percent of those killed at the nightclub were Latino, based on Hispanic surnames. Most were Puerto Rican, the dominant Hispanic demographic in Central Florida. Some of the victims were recent arrivals from the island, which is in the throes of a 10-year recession that has sent its residents fleeing to the states in search of a better economic clime.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, city commissioners and other city and county officials are expected to attend the vigilia, organized by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. Participants are being asked to wear white in solidarity.
Orlando Forms Alliance
After the nightclub shooting, City Hall immediately cobbled together about 34 community organizations to form a partnership through which victims and their families could receive information and assistance at the one-stop location. They include Catholic Charities, Consulado de México, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office, American Red Cross, United Way and Florida Health and Department of Children and Families, among others.
More than 1,000 individuals and families have sought some form of help at the center, which will remain open indefinitely, according to City Hall.
“The center is part of our long-term commitment to assist anyone affected by the tragedy,” wrote Dyer in Mayor Dyer’s Blog.
Unusual or Creative Move
In an unusual – some might say creative – move, the city of Orlando’s alliance includes several chambers of commerce, among them the Hispanic chamber, the sponsor of the vigilia; the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Metropolitan Business Association, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the West Indian-American Chamber of Commerce.
(Full disclosure: In 2014, the Hispanic Chamber voted me among the 50 Most Influential Hispanics in Central Florida.)
Orlando City Hall looked to the chambers’ diversified memberships to assist in various areas. But the move has irked some Hispanic grass roots groups, which say that the business organizations are not closely connected to the non-business side of their communities.
After all, members pay to belong to the chambers – up to $550 and $620, respectively, for the African-American and Hispanic chambers – and are not the first stops for families and survivors seeking help, any more than Orlando Inc., Central Florida’s main business group, would be the first stop for other disaster victims.
Room for One More
The smaller organizations say they have been shut out from City Hall, although they, too, are providing vital services to the Hispanic community. They seek respect and a voice alongside the larger associations. For instance, the umbrella group Somos Orlando sprang up in the wake of the tragedy, stepping into the gap of culturally competent services. It includes over 40 organizations, some of them Hispanic Chamber members.
“No Hispanic organization has a seat at the table,” one organizer said.
To be fair, however, the Hispanic Chamber has declared its solidarity with the Orlando community and has been proactive in advocating for Hispanics, issuing information in Spanish and organizing the vigil. The chamber said it has received “thousands of emails and calls” from people who want to help.
“Our City of Orlando and our community asked how the Chamber would assist, and we have stepped in for our community’s need. I’ve had the opportunity to hear, feel, relate, and at times grieve with my team, the families of the victims, survivors, and community at large,” wrote Hispanic Chamber President Diana Bolivar. “Our community needs us and we’ve spent countless hours of hard work and dedication – away from our personal families – to organize and share resources, compassion, and love for our community.”
The city’s response to the horrific tragedy at Pulse nightclub has been exemplary, even a textbook case for future study. Dyer’s extraordinary leadership has shone bright. The hearts of Hispanic grass roots and professional organizations also are with the community. Surely there must be room for each in Orlando City Hall.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor
What: Spanish-language vigil for Pulse victims
Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts